Dating back to post-Revolutionary War America, the first mentions of a 'sling' in the press started in 1800. It was the drink to have if you needed a little pick-me-up in the morning and, in that respect, it was the original Corpse Reviver.
The original slings would be made with gin, brandy, whiskey or rum. It was the way to mix up a drink almost decades before famous bartenders like Jerry Thomas stepped behind the bar.
As you might imagine, a drink with a history that long has been transformed a few times over the years. Cold or hot, soda or not, vermouth, grenadine or cherry brandy -- those are just a few of your options. In the interest of fairness, let's take a look at all of them!
A 'Modern' Gin Sling Recipe
In all honesty, this Gin Sling recipe is probably going to appeal most to modern drinkers. As you will see, it is a completely different drink than the traditional Gin Sling, but it has a lot of appeal to it.
Dale DeGroff uses this Gin Sling recipe in his book, The Craft of the Cocktail. In the description, he notes that it is "a late-nineteenth-century sling recipe" (in comparison, that's modern) and that it had devoted fans when he served it at New York City's Rainbow Room.
There are many things to love about this Gin Sling. It is tall and refreshing with a perfect balance of sweet, sour, bitter and herbal. Quite frankly, it is a superb cocktail and a fantastic break from those easy gin and soda drinks like the Gin Rickey.
- Pour the ingredients (except soda) into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Shake well.
- Strain into a chilled collins glass filled with ice.
- Top with soda.
- Garnish with a lemon twist.
Variations on the Gin Sling
There are many ways to customize the Gin Sling. To get you started, you may want to adapt this modern recipe by mixing:
- Cherry Brandy - Use instead of the vermouth.
- Grenadine - Also replaces the vermouth, giving the drink a much sweeter taste. You might want to cut the pour to 1/2 ounce.
- Base Liquor - Any of the six base liquors can be used to create a sling, simply replace the gin with your favorite. For whiskey, try rye or bourbon. Rum and brandy are popular options as well.
What is a Sling Drink?
Before we get into the traditional Gin Sling recipe, it's important to understand what defines a sling.
Back in the day (we're talking the late 1700's and early 1800's), you had a toddy or a sling (sangarees and juleps were options as well). Typically, the Toddy was served warm while the Sling was served cold (though either temperature is an option for both drinks).
The two drinks mixed a base liquor (gin, rum, brandy or whiskey) with sugar and water. When you wanted a true Sling, you would add fresh-grated nutmeg.
That's it! These are the most basic style of mixed drinks and some of the first to be enjoyed by all Americans. When it came to slings, the drink was not more popular in one area of the small country than the other, they were universally loved.
Fun Fact: The name sling may refer to 'slinging' back a drink.
A.S. Crockett notes in 1935's The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book that the word sling "... not the drink itself, ascribed to the German schlingen, meaning 'swallow,' not from the English verb meaning to 'hurl' -- down." (Crockett also uses the following Gin Sling recipe in his book.)
A Traditional Gin Sling Recipe
It is finally time to enjoy the Gin Sling the way America's forefathers enjoyed it. As you can see, it is a very simple drink recipe and, frankly, is nothing more than diluting and sweetening a shot of gin. That said, for all its simplicity, it is a great drink.
In his book, Imbibe!, David Wondrich devotes four pages to the discussion of slings. It is a fascinating read for any cocktail history geek and many of the facts I've been slinging around are pulled from it.
Most interesting, however, is Wondrich's note that other than the nutmeg, even Jerry Thomas had a hard time distinguishing the toddy from the sling. Whatever you do, don't forget the nutmeg! It is what makes this Gin Sling great.
Also, to get a real taste of Thomas' Gin Sling, Holland gin would be the way to go. Today, we often call it genever and Bols is your best option outside the Netherlands.
To make this drink, dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar in an old-fashioned glass with 1/2 ounce water. Add 2 ounces gin and a few ice cubes. Stir well and finish with freshly grated nutmeg.
A Few Tips for Making the Classic Gin Sling
- When using lump sugar, muddle it with a little water first.
- As with the other Gin Sling, replace the gin to create a Whiskey Sling, Rum Sling or Brandy Sling.
- If you want to make a Hot [Insert Liquor Here] Sling, simply use hot water instead of cold.
How Strong is the Gin Sling?
Wondrich notes in Imbibe! that the gin of Jerry Thomas' day was a lot stronger than the gin we enjoy today. That is why the traditional recipe uses just 1/2 ounce of water instead of Thomas' "1 wine-glass." This keeps the gin from getting lost and helps retain flavor and alcohol.
Let's do a comparison of the alcohol content between the traditional and 'modern' way to make a Gin Sling. We'll assume an 80-proof gin is used for both.
- Gin Sling with 15% ABV Vermouth: 11% ABV (22 proof)
- Traditional Gin Sling: 27% ABV (54 proof)
That is a big difference, but again, they are totally different drinks!